Owner no vil­lain

Ottawa Sun - - COMMENT -

This time, Eu­gene Mel­nyk is sim­ply the mes­sen­ger.

The Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors owner snuffed out the lin­ger­ing hopes of many lo­cal hockey fans on the week­end when he con­firmed what we had al­ready been told back in April: NHL stars will not be tak­ing part in Fe­bru­ary’s Win­ter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

There will be no 11th hour deals; no peace ac­cord be­tween league, play­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion and Olympic pow­ers; no chance for Crosby & Co. to win an­other gold for Canada. And that is, quite sim­ply, a shame. Since NHL play­ers headed to the Win­ter Olympics to rep­re­sent their coun­tries in 1998, hockey has again be­come, at least in this na­tion, one of the high­lights of the Games.

That is not to take away from Canada’s women’s team, nor our raft of iconic fig­ure skaters, speed skaters and nu­mer­ous ath­letes who have dis­tin­guished them­selves for this coun­try.

But men’s hockey has of­fered the chance to see dream teams of Canada’s finest male play­ers — from Gret­zky to Crosby — take to the ice wear­ing the maple leaf on their jersey.

We can un­der­stand the hes­i­tancy on the part of the NHL: This is a busi­ness. An in­jury in a “mean­ing­less” game could jeop­ar­dize a sea­son; it could end a ca­reer.

But for those of us who love the game, the chance to see how the truly best stars of this gen­er­a­tion fare against their coun­ter­parts from around the world has been a treat.

Yet, aside from de­liv­er­ing the bad news Mon­day, Mel­nyk also made an­other fair point.

The Olympics have long been about am­a­teur sports.

We learn, over the course of roughly two weeks, the sto­ries of ath­letes who have given ev­ery­thing, sac­ri­ficed time with fam­ily and friends, to shine for a brief mo­ment on the in­ter­na­tional stage, for love of craft and coun­try.

De­spite scan­dals over dop­ing, bu­reau­cratic shenani­gans, and the ever loom­ing in­tru­sions of pol­i­tics, the Games are, in their purest form, a show­case of tal­ent and ac­com­plish­ment rooted in the spirit of com­pe­ti­tion.

So let’s tem­per our dis­ap­point­ment at the ab­sence of NHL mil­lion­aires. There re­mains much to be ex­cited about as we ap­proach these Games.

Canada’s hard-work­ing am­a­teur ath­letes will shine in a spotlight they can now re­claim from the ab­sent pros.

And we should all be cheer­ing them on.

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